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Cooking with Autism

Cooking is both a life skill and outlet, and although it’s a beneficial skill for all individuals of all ages, it becomes increasingly important as young adults age. For adults living with autism, there are unique challenges associated with cooking. Whether you struggle with sensory challenges, find it hard to follow directions, or experience fine and gross motor issues, you can address these hurdles — all it takes is practice, patience, and support.

Interested in learning how to cook or help your loved one become more comfortable in the kitchen? Here’s what you need to know.

Adults Cooking with Autism – Benefits and Challenges

While much of the research has focused on children, studies suggest that autism continues to impact eating behaviors into adulthood.

Many adults on the spectrum struggle with food and cooking because of sensory stimuli, extreme sensitivity to change, and a strong preference for a narrow selection of ingredients. Research shows that individuals with autism tend to favor processed foods and carbohydrates.

This can lead to poor nutrition and an increased risk of weight gain. That is why it’s important to help adults with autism explore new, more nutrient-dense ingredients.

In addition to nutritional benefits, cooking is a critical life skill — one that encourages greater independence. If you or your loved one would like to move out of the family home, this is one key area that must be addressed. By developing such skills, individuals also build greater confidence while achieving a greater quality of life. In some cases, individuals become so passionate about cooking that they are able to pursue employment within the food and drink industry.

Some of the other benefits include:

  • Facilitating social-emotional development
  • Honing fine motor skills
  • Improving executive functioning
  • Encouraging a wider variety of food choices

Each Individual Is Unique

To build autism cooking skills, you must focus on your unique strengths, weaknesses, and interests. This will allow you to develop a cooking plan that is best suited for you. To approach your cooking journey, start by keeping a record of you or your loved one’s reactions to sensations. You can also use this journal to record your successes in the kitchen and your goals.

For example, if you have a hard time holding or using certain kitchen tools and utensils, adapt based on your personal needs. Practice your fine motor skills by tearing pieces of lettuce, and if you struggle to cut food, start with soft fruits or cooked ingredients, such as banana, strawberries, or cooked potato.

At the Adult Autism Center, we understand the importance of a personalized approach. Our culinary program allows adults of all ages and skill levels to become more confident in the kitchen. Our goal is to help adults with autism develop this life skill while striving for optimal health. There are also opportunities to sell baked goods within the community, encouraging stronger social skills.

Easy Recipes for Adults with Autism

There is no such thing as “autism recipes” but there are many meals that are approachable for those who face specific challenges. Again, it’s important to focus on recipes that allow individuals to create meals based on their personal skill level, taking each individual’s unique challenges into consideration.

Starting with a favorite food or meal is a good starting point. This helps connect individuals to the cooking experience based on the end reward.

Here are some example recipes to inspire you:

Heather Davis graduated from Texas A&M University with her Ph.D. in Special Education and is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Heather has spent 18 years of her professional career working with children diagnosed with autism and their families. In her previous role as the Clinical Director of the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, her focus was to provide on-going staff training to ensure the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based services to meet the individualized needs of each child diagnosed with autism. She is inspired to continue to work in this field by the progress clients demonstrate which helps to improve their quality of life. Hearing individuals speak their first words, gain independent living skills, and demonstrate skills families never thought possible are what drive her to become a better clinician and continue to work with these important members of our community. In her free time, Heather enjoys running, reading, and spending time with her twin girls and husband exploring all the wonderful landscapes of Utah.

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